Bali after the Eat, Pray, Love boom
Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir put Bali on the map of every middle-class divorcée in America
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Bali.
There have always been better reasons to visit Bali than to escape something, said Alyssa Giacobbe at The Boston Globe. The island in southern Indonesia, home to most of the nation's Hindu minority, has always been a place of "otherworldly" beaches, very friendly people, and thousands of temples. But ever since Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, put Bali on the map of every middle-class divorcée in America, the island has been riding a tourism boom that can make spiritual healing seem like its only industry. The "Gilbert effect" hasn't been all bad: English now appears on most signs and is spoken widely. And the surge hasn't spoiled Bali's soul. When I visited recently with my husband, "the real Bali" wasn't hard to find.
We wanted to start our week with beach time and some lying around, and Jimbaran Bay, a prime resort area, did the trick. Even there, though, we found time to wander a fishing village and to visit beautiful Uluwatu Temple, which every evening hosts a kecak performance — "a show of song, dance, fire, and elaborate costumes" based on a Hindu epic. We relocated midweek to a rented small villa in Ubud, Bali's cultural capital. Our place, which cost just $120 a night, had its own pool and staff. But we walked to town for rice pancakes and $1 beers, and within days, we felt like regulars.
During high season, big crowds hike the sacred volcano Mount Batur to watch the sun rise, and we eluded them by hiring a guide to take us up a less crowded trail. He cooked our breakfast near the summit, using steam from volcanic fissures. In truth, "it's not wholly undesirable to be a tourist in Bali," and no visitors should miss seeing a Balinese dance or the Gianyar night market, outside Ubud. We even enjoyed a tourist trap where 600 long-tailed monkeys preside over a mere 27-acre nature reserve. In the Monkey Forest, it's important to secure your belongings, because the primates will steal anything — "though you can often get it back with a banana, for sale throughout the park for that very reason."